Following a 1-5 defeat to Scotland and back-to-back 0-2 defeats to England and Lithuania, Malta plays the fourth match from Group F of the European Qualifiers leading to the 2018 FIFA World Cup as the boys in red take on Slovenia at the National Stadium on Friday, kick-off at 20:45.
Malta coach Pietro Ghedin coud not count on a number of players due to injuries and suspensions. In fact, Ghedin is forced to make at least two changes to the team which lost 2-0 in Vilnius as Jonathan Caruana is ruled out through suspension and Paul Fenech is ruled out injured. Roderick Briffa, Alex Muscat and Mark Scerri are also unavailable. However Luke Gambin will be back after serving a two-match ban.
Addressing the media on Thursday, Pietro Ghedin said he is happy with the players’ physical condition and hopes that they will show the necessary determination against a team which on paper is much stronger than Malta. In fact, at one point, Slovenia were ranked 17th although they are now 52nd.
Photos: Copyright © Paul Zammit Cutajar
Goalkeeper Andrew Hogg starts in goal while Andrei Agius and Steve Borg are sure-starters as central defenders. Joining them should be Under-21 international Sam Magri who plays for Dover Athletic. The former Portsmouth and England youth international impressed while playing for the Malta Under-21 side and seems to be the main candidate to fill the void left by Caruana.
Steve Borg and Joseph Zerafa should start on the flanks with two players between Gareth Sciberras, Rowen Muscat and Bjorn Kristensen joining Luke Gambin in midfield. Gambin could be given a more offensive role along with Andre Schembri to support Michael Mifsud in attack. The Valletta striker, in fact, should retain his place in the starting line-up with Effiong starting on the bench.
Slovenia are currently joint-second in the group on five points, two behind leaders England. Following a 2-2 draw in Lithuania, Slovenia defeated Slovakia 1-0 and then held England in a goalless draw.
Malta and Slovenia met four times. Malta hosted Slovenia at Ta’ Qali in the Malta International (Rothmans) Tournament in February 1994 and February 1996 – the games ending in a 0-1 defeat for Malta and a goalless draw. In September 2002, in the EURO 2004 qualifiers, Slovenia beat Malta 3-0. In April 2003, Slovenia won 3-1 at Ta’ Qali with Michael Mifsud scoring Malta’s goal.